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Iron Age
Cliff Castle
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800 BC - AD 43
Cliff Castle   Cliff Castle
Cliff Castles are found all along the ‘Celtic Fringe’ in Cornwall, Devon, Wales, Ireland and Brittany. They were constructed by building one or more ramparts and ditches across the neck of a coastal promontory and have much in common with hillforts, including the fact that both site types appear in the fourth millennium (from 500 BC) and go out of use in the first century AD, around the time of the Roman occupation. Like hillforts, their purpose is being re-evaluated in the light of information from recent excavations and studies – they do not seem to function primarily as settlements, and their coastal location suggests they may have played a particular role in maritime trade.
‘Fogou’ is a Cornish word meaning a cave, and Cornish fogous are prehistoric underground passages constructed by excavating a trench and lining its sides with either large stone blocks or drystone walling, and then roofing this passage with large flat slabs. Fogous are often found in association with later Iron Age or Romano-British period settlements, but modern investigations have done little to solve the enigma of their function – they may be ritual structures, or have been used for storage or as a place of refuge.
Hillfort   Hillfort
At the top end of the hierarchy of later Iron Age settlement are the hillforts. Defined by one or, more usually, two or three imposing ramparts, these sites are interpreted as central places overseeing large tribal territories. The ramparts may have been intended to impress rather than to have functioned as a defensive barrier as few signs of warfare ever come from excavation. They were constructed from around 500 BC and appear to go out of fashion in the years following the Roman Conquest.
Iron Age

During the 8th century BC iron gradually replaces bronze for weapons and tools, but bronze continues to be used, especially for personal items and jewellery.

A hierarchy of settlement sites develops, ranging from small family farms in ‘Rounds’ up to the large scale and massively fortified hillforts. Many hundreds of 'rounds', farmsteads and hamlets defended by a single rampart, are found throughout favoured farmland. The ramparts of these settlements have helped ensure their survival, but unenclosed settlements of round houses and fields would probably have been equally numerous.

The strongly defended hillforts and cliff castles are economic and social centres. They are the strongholds of the aristocracy or tribal chiefs who wield authority and exact tribute from the farmers of the surrounding countryside. They are symbols of power and places for trade and diplomacy, as well as for communal ceremonies encouraging social cohesion, markets and fairs and perhaps, religious rituals and seasonal ceremonies.

The dead are buried in cemeteries of pit-graves, sometimes lined with stone, placed on their side in a crouched position, and normally aligned north-south.

Arts and crafts flourish and metalworking reaches new heights of achievement, culminating in the La Tčne style, applied to all kinds of everyday objects as well as to precious objects such as gold neck rings and armlets.


supported by HLF and compiled by the Historic Environment Service of Cornwall County Council  
last updated: 05/09/2007